City’s big­gest jerks have sweet, vanilla mem­o­ries

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JEFF MA­HONEY jma­honey@thes­pec.com 905-526-3306

Tigers can’t change their spots (or is that leop­ards and their stripes? Look, I’m not a zo­ol­o­gist), and so I’ll say of John Michaluk: Once a jerk, al­ways a jerk. Whoa. Call off the li­bel lawyers. He says it of him­self. Also of peo­ple he calls best friends. “Oh, look,” he says as one comes through the door at Bay City Mu­sic Hall over at Le­an­der Boat Club, “guy’s a jerk.”

John, you might re­call, played for the Tab­bies, 50-year-old vin­tage, a hardy va­ri­etal with ro­bust notes of Grey Cup 1967.

He wasn’t a jerk on the field. Off it? Ma­jor yanker, an ex­pe­ri­enced one who, by ’67, had logged thou­sands of hours. Nine years of mus­cle mem­ory, in­stinct and touch-around-the-tap, banked-up in hands well-prac­tised at the art of pulling malted shakes, ice cream floats, vanilla cokes and other syrup-ed drinks from those shiny chrome goose­neck gey­sers known as ... soda foun­tains.

“Iconic” gets so overused. But the soda foun­tain — OK, let’s call it ice cream-conic — re­ally was em­blem­atic of an era. For a gen­er­a­tion or three, in the core of the city, Jumbo Ice Cream was soda par­lour cen­tral.

How strong was its draw, how piv­otal its role as chapel in the par­ish of so­cial re­fresh­ment?

“I was still do­ing shifts,” says John Michaluk, “al­most up to the year we won the Grey Cup.” (Can you imag­ine Sid­ney Crosby moon­light­ing as a barista dur­ing a run at Lord Stan­ley’s pantry?)

A dif­fer­ent, by­gone world. But one that still turns on an axis of fel­low­ship, mem­o­ries, “f anf aro- nade” (ban­ter), cold cuts and li­ba­tions at the bian­nual “shiv­oos” (get-to­geth­ers) of the Jumbo Jerks. They con­vene at Bay City Mu­sic Hall, on — for no ap­par­ent rea­son — Amer­i­can Thanks­giv­ing and Cinco de Mayo.

The Jumbo Jerks — sev­eral had ath­letic ca­reers — are guys who worked as soda jerks, or hung out at, the now ex­tinct Jumbo Ice Cream Par­lor (1936-1968, owned by Don and Evan McMaster), cor­ner King and Vic­to­ria.

“Ev­ery­one hung around,” says Doug Forsyth.

“Af­ter school. Af­ter games (Cen­tral and Cathe­dral, for in­stance). And you had to work fast. Al­ways long line­ups.”

His years there were 1953 to 1965. He ac­tu­ally lived over the store. “I had to quit when I got mar­ried,” he says. “I loved the job. We’d all still do it if we could.”

Soda jerks (the job was cov­eted) had to wait and watch and do scut work like dish­wash­ing for months be­fore be­ing en­trusted to jockey the foun­tain levers and work the ta­pered mix­ing cups. Some Jumbo Jerks still love do­ing dishes; brings back mem­o­ries.

There was an art to it, says John, a touch. “If you pulled for­ward too f ast, there’d be a spray of gas and wa­ter.”

They made things like a Tin Roof, a Bar­ney Google (banana cut into coins, pineap­ple, etc.), a David Harum (crushed straw­berry, etc.).

In an email, John writes: “We could do it all. Serve up ice cream so­das of any flavour; ice cold but­ter­milk on the hottest sum­mer day with salt on the side; draft coke made from gal­lon jars of thick syrup; and banana splits by the hun­dreds on a Sun­day af­ter church ... who had it bet­ter, eh?”

The soda par­lour was so­cial mi­cro­cosm, with a kind of gemein­schaft all its own. “I met my wife at Jumbo,” says Bob Krouse.

Be­cause par­lours were so gen­er­ally wo­ven into the com­mu­nal fab­ric, jerks of­ten be­came per­form­ers af­ter a man­ner, ac­cord­ing to Amer­i­can drive-in, soda-foun­tain, gas-sta­tion cul­ture chron­i­cler Michael Karl Witzel, who called them “free­lance lin­guists.”

In­deed, John em­broi­ders his emails, his writ­ing and his speech with won­der­ful lan­guage like the above quoted “shiv­oos” and “fan­faron­ade” and other gems: “quid­nuncs,” “cachin­nate,” “foo­tle,” “caciques.”

The Jumbo Jerks arose about seven years ago be­cause, says John, “We were get­ting tired of meet­ing at Friscolantes (the fu­neral home).” They started with once a year but the get-to­geth­ers proved so pop­u­lar, draw­ing as many as 30 or 40, they dou­bled to twice.

The driv­ing logic, its rai­son d’être, is an ir­refutable truth, says John. “You can’t make old friends.” And such were in force when I vis­ited this May — men like John, Doug, Bob, Lou Loro, Marvin Michaels, Ed­die Turek, John Brod­nicki, “Dy­na­mite” Dunn, oth­ers.

For the ex-foot­baller ( John also co-owned the Ti­cats for a time) none of the glory amounts to a fluff of whipped cream stacked up against the deep bonds formed over some car­bon­ated wa­ter so long ago and strength­ened over a life­time.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Jumbo Jerks Stephen Lech­niak, Ed Turek, Lou Loro, Bob Krouse, Bill Swenor, Marv Michaels, John Michaluk, Doug Forsyth and Ed Dunn.

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